CONCORD >> If anyone had Connor O’Brien and Cade Brennan in the unlikely heroes pool for Garnet Valley’s showdown with Methacton in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A boys basketball playoffs Friday night, pat yourself on the back.
You made a good call.
On a night when leading scorers Austin Laughlin and Brandon Starr were guarded more closely than White House secrets, O’Brien and Brennan came through in a big way to help the Jaguars make history with a 49-45 victory over the Warriors.
O’Brien scored 12 points and handed out seven assists, and the 6-5 Brennan added eight, and teamed with Peter Tienabeso to hold Methacton’s 6-8 freshman center Jeff Woodward scoreless in the second half. That gave the Jaguars their first District 1 playoff victory since joining the Central League in 2008.
You can add Cole Palis to that heroic list, too. The 5-10 sophomore guard made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 55.8 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
“We’re not that hard to figure out,” Garnet Valley coach Mike Brown said. “We count on Andrew (Laughlin) and Brendan (Starr) a lot and when teams go after them the way Methacton did, other guys have to step up.
“Connor O’Brien stepped up and hit some big shots. Cade made some big shots and played their big guy tough. We were worried about the big kid and Cade did a great job on him.”
Laughlin and Starr did their parts. Laughlin scored 13 points and Starr added 10 points and 10 rebounds. However, it was far below the 22.4 and 18.4 points-per-game the duo averaged, respectively, during the regular season.
Without the input from O’Brien, Brennan and Palis, among others, Garnet Valley (15-8) would not have a road date with top-seeded Perkiomen Valley next Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
O’Brien hit four 3-pointers, which isn’t that unusual, considering that is one of his specialties. No, what made O’Brien’s performance special and impressive is that he did it without the mask he has been wearing for the last two weeks to protect a broken nose.
Usually, it takes a few days to get used to playing with a mask and about the same amount of time to get accustomed to playing without it. O’Brien appeared to have no problem playing mask-free.
PHOTO GALLERY: Garnet Valley vs. Methacton
“It felt good to get it off,” the 6-1 junior guard said. “It’s tough playing with the mask. It gets all sweaty and fogs up. I’m glad I don’t have to wear it.”
O’Brien’s biggest shot came at the end of the first half when he buried a 3-point shot from one step beyond the half-court line to get the Jaguars (15-8) within 24-21 at the break.
“That shot gave us a huge lift,” Brennan said.
Brennan had a perfect view of O’Brien’s buzzer-beater. He was seated in the first chair on the bench directly behind O’Brien.
“I knew it was going in as soon as it left his hand,” Brennan said.
O’Brien wasn’t so sure.
“It felt good when it left my hand and I thought, “It might be close,” O’Brien said. “When it went in we were all fired up. We came into the classroom all excited.”
Brennan’s effort gave the Jaguars and their fans reason to cheer, too. Brennan’s performance was reminiscent of the scene in Hoosiers where Strap Purl suddenly becomes an offensive force. Brennan hit two huge baskets to fuel a 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter that gave the Jaguars the lead for good.
With the Jags trailing, 29-26, Brennan hit a jumper from the left elbow and buried a jumper from the right corner on Garnet Valley’s next trip down the floor to put the Jaguars in front, 30-29. Laughlin added two more baskets to extend the advantage to 34-29 heading into the final period.
“I was feeling it,” Brennan said. “This was the kind of game where me, Connor and Cole had to step up and we did.”
Brennan did it on the defensive end, too. Woodward had 10 points in the first half, eight of which came in the first period. Brennan and Tienabeso kept him off the board in the second half.
“We knew we had to shut him down,” Brennan said. “He really hurt us in the first half.”
The Jaguars were in control but far from home free, even after they extended their lead to 43-37 with 4:41 to play. Methacton went on a 5-0 run to get within 43-42 with 2:18 to play. O’Brien and Palis were there to make sure that was as close as the Warriors would get.
O’Brien hit a layup and had a chance for a conventional three-point play, but his free throw was off the mark so the Jags had to settle for a 45-42 lead. Crandall Jones (11 points) had a chance to get the Warriors back within one, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Palis was fouled with 55 seconds left and he did not miss. He drained both ends of the one-and-one for a 47-42 Garnet Valley lead. David Duda (12 points) hit a 3-pointer to make it a one possession game with 12 seconds left, but O’Brien was there to apply the dagger.
After O’Brien got away with a pass that was tipped out of bounds by Methacton’s Shamus Shields, he found a streaking Laughlin for a layup just before the final buzzer sounded.
“I don’t know the last time we won a playoff game,” Brennan said. “It’s been a long time, but it feels great.”